Anthrax Anxiety

' White powder' fears understandable, but paranoia is the real threat

First junk mail, then hate mail.

Now bacteria mail.

In our age of anthrax-in-an-envelope, it is neither time to make light, nor to panic.

Postal paranoia does not become us. It is safe to open mail and, for that matter, safe to go shopping.

Still, the U.S. Postal Service's move to equip all mail handlers with gloves and masks is a reasonable response to the newest phase in what is becoming a multi-front war with terrorism.

Many of the "white powder" incidents in the past week or so are clearly misunderstandings fed by inflamed worries over the spread of terrorism -- or they are pranks. As a culture with a highly diverse sense of humor, it is important to remember that some people are going to find malicious mirth in these fast-changing and confusing times.

In Lake Oswego officials closed several streets for three hours in reaction to what was flour used to mark a running course. In Puget Sound, ferry service on a heavily-used commuter line after an alarm over what turned out to be women's make-up in a restroom.

Hood River County has not been immune to such alarms. The white powder found in the till at Pine Grove Grocery raised an understandable concern in the people who work there. But a fact-based, cooperative response by local health and law enforcement helps keep this in perspective. (For more, turn to page A1).

Two facts deserve stressing: the chance is highly remote of an act of terror, biological or other, reaching our community.

Anthrax, though deadly, is a non-communicable bacterial disease and it is hardly exotic -- farmers have for decades dealt with it in cattle.

It is ironic that the "mad cow" scare of the first half of 2001 would be followed in the second half by anthrax as world's most-feared illness.

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